Last July I impulsively tweeted about my intentions with tennis at the end of another grueling World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. It’s fair to say that at that stage, not only was there a mountain to climb in terms of being very unfit; there were still a bucket load of questions and issues to be resolved, relating simply to how even to get the ball really rolling.
Through no lack of effort and experimentation, I still hadn’t found a dietary solution that ideally suited where my body was at, with the complexity of being diabetic without a colon. I’d been having serious issues with my elbow whenever I’d work on my serve (probably should have been working on grip strength...). My first serve itself was extremely erratic. I somehow couldn’t seem to control my previously biggest strength, the backhand, despite plenty of time with a ball machine.
Also, at that point, I’d only had a couple of months back in the gym with personal trainers (the first time since 2013) – my doc had held me back from weight training until deeming my mitochondria strong enough to handle it. And I’d still have to prove capable of financially supporting myself with a lesser reliance on poker.
The thing is that I’d seen enough great signs to feel extremely confident that I’d figure it out. This is the point I most want to get across, and where I hope that, looking back in the future, the true value will be found for others in my story. Only you know who you really are, what you’ve been through and what you’re capable of. Don’t dare let groupthink and the dogmatic views of others make you believe otherwise.
I knew that even at 28, I still had several years ahead to make this happen. My joints were healthy, young and mobile. I’d dedicated myself to learning everything I could about health, to finding the best possible support in this area, and throughout the chaos of my 20s, I'd protected my body with my life. With improved fitness, a coach, my existing skillset and more time on court, any major issues with technique would resolve quickly. Most importantly though, I hadn’t enjoyed myself as much as I did in Vegas since I was a kid.
I came into the WSOP once again with high expectations and a lot of pressure to produce results. Until a big run in the Main Event at the end, things hadn’t gone my way and the thoughts were swirling about what this would mean for my life afterwards. Yet, I’d had a blast. I hadn’t had so much as a low stress month since my surgery in 2007, and to feel my spirit and zest really reemerge in the last year, I knew I’d reached a point where I wasn’t going to be held back any longer.
The months since have been full of huge breakthroughs and euphoric moments as well as new challenges and frustrations. Food and fueling options have been found that have been absolute game changers. All the issues I was having with my backhand, serve and elbow miraculously resolved instantly after diving back into rackets and finding one far more suited to my game. I couldn’t be happier with my strength and power levels after a few months consistently in the gym. My insulin requirements have at times dropped to lower than 20% of what I was taking throughout the WSOP (there’s a cortisol story in there for poker players). Some of the health treatments I’m working through with the doc have had profound effects – it goes on.
Concurrently though, it’s felt difficult at times to keep up with the increased rigours. Primarily this has been due to difficulty sleeping well and recovering. This has meant improvements to endurance have been tempered, and the instability with mood and cravings have meant far from linear progress. I’ve spent a month and a half out of the gym now, in a concerted effort to get these intangibles spot on. In the meantime I’ve been able to focus on radically improving my oxygen efficiency (something I’ll talk about in the future), and gaining more and more mobility through yoga practice. I’ve also been dealing with a shoulder impingement issue for quite a while after a new service technique experiment gone wrong, and this has given me heaps of time to focus on optimizing shoulder and arm health, which will obviously be crucial for the future. Hitting's been no issue though, just serving, and that side of things is going fantastically. Ultimately this was never going to be a smooth ride, and I’m thrilled with where things are at.
In terms of match play, in November I played my first matches for six years, filling in for my mate’s club team to play best-of-3 doubles and singles. Obviously we were rusty as hell, but it was very exciting to be able to play for 3 hours in warm conditions and feel better toward the end than halfway through. That will sound very misleading, given that the standard and length of rallies were lightyears below that of tour level – I still have a very limited aerobic capacity, but excitingly, so much improved on where it has been. We had good wins in both matches and it’s fair to say that that day gave me some great feedback on my body and where I was tight, which was really valuable too (my hip flexors were in a vice for days!). Since then the focus has shifted back to other areas, but we’re not far from starting to get more consistent match play in.
Right now it’s time to do some work – some Australian Open betting and a few Aussie Millions poker events – and to keep dialing in lifestyle habits. Once the Aussie Millions is over in two or three weeks, I’ll look toward taking the next step and really upping the ante.
Alright, that’s there we're at right now! We'll get some video footage up as soon asap, too, so we can see exactly what we’re working with - and we'll talk strategically about what I see as the priorities, on and of the tennis court, at the moment.
During the Aus Open coverage, Roger Rasheed was just heard saying, "In this day and age, I'd rather build the athlete first, then teach them the tennis second; that's the easy part" - this is generally in line with how I've been viewing my own situation, too. The tennis is in good shape for now, and I'll certainly keep hitting and working on it, but right now, laying the foundations to maximise athletic ceiling for the future seems like numero uno.